What name do you use for God?

By | March 3, 2010

The first thing we do upon meeting new people is to introduce ourselves — to share our name and wait for them to do the same. We try to remember both their names and the correct pronunciation.

Sharing our name indicates a willingness to become acquainted and perhaps, as time goes on, to develop a relationship. Maybe that’s why I resent telemarketers or fund-raisers who begin the conversation with “Well, Ann, how are you doing tonight?” as if they know who I am or care. It seems dishonest.

In days gone by, names often revealed a person’s background — their occupation (Smith, Shoemacher), parentage (Johnson — son of John, MacBride — daughter of Bridget), or even place of origin (Fenton — a farm on the fens). And in ancient Semitic lands, knowing people’s names gave you power and allowed you to make a claim on them. Knowing a god’s name meant that you could call on him/her and be assured of a hearing.

In the Exodus account, Moses experienced God in the burning bush. Because God commissioned Moses to take a message to the Israelites, he asked God to reveal the divine name so he could prove to his listeners that his message was true. God began by describing himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” and when pressed, revealed the name, “I am.”

Scripture commentators have filled pages trying to plumb the meaning of “I am.” Some believe it was an expression of a God who was active — who intervened. Perhaps it indicated that no definition of God is possible. It could have been an expression of the transcendence of God who is beyond naming; or it may have been an assertion of God’s absolute existence compared to the “nothingness” of the gods of other nations.

As Christians we use various names and titles for God in our liturgical prayer and our personal prayer. The one we call “God” is the I Am who led Israel out of Egypt, the One Jesus called Abba (Father), and Lord of heaven and earth. We name the three persons in one God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As we join in the prayers of the liturgy this week, we might want to pay attention to the titles the church uses and what these reveal about God’s nature. The opening prayer begins God of all compassion, Father of all goodness. Our prayers end through Christ our Lord. At the preparation of the gifts we address the God of all creation, and the preface begins, Father all-powerful and ever-living God. This is followed by the eucharistic prayer in which we remember the great deeds God has done throughout history.

Depending upon which eucharistic prayer is used, we call God Father, living and true, the Almighty, and God of glory and majesty. Jesus is described as only-begotten Son, the Word through whom God made the universe, the Victim whose death reconciled us to God, Savior and Redeemer. The Holy Spirit is Comforter and Guide, the first gift to those who believe and the Sanctifier.

This week we may also want to pay attention to the names we use for God when we pray privately — how those titles differ from (or are the same as) our communal expression — and what our names for God reveal about our relationship.

 

Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.

 

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